Tighten work­site safety

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

THE con­struc­tion of two blocks of high-rise con­do­mini­ums in Jalan Tun Razak in the city has al­ways been a source of fear for some 400 peo­ple work­ing at the nearby Wisma Ber­nama.

The head­quar­ters of the na­tional news agency Ber­nama is so near the con­struc­tion site that each time mishaps oc­curred at such a site else­where, the chill­ing mes­sage was driven home even closer.

The lat­est tragedy at a con­struc­tion site hap­pened in Au­gust when a woman was killed after a crane hook fell and crashed onto her car in Jalan Raja Chu­lan.

Their worst fears were con­firmed on Monday when a heavy me­tal scaf­fold fell off and landed on the back por­tion of a brand-new Honda CRV as it was be­ing driven out of Wisma Ber­nama’s car park.

“Had it been one or two sec­onds ear­lier, the me­tal piece would have crashed onto the dash­board por­tion and I would be gone,” said Khairul An­nuar, the se­nior Ber­nama ex­ec­u­tive who mirac­u­lously es­caped un­hurt.

As Ber­nama chair­man for the last six months, I have fre­quently ad­vised the de­vel­oper of the project – the two blocks will have a to­tal of 93 floors – to be more mindful about safety at the work­place than any­thing else.

The point that I have been try­ing to im­press on him to be passed on to his con­trac­tors is about the wel­fare of con­struc­tion work­ers who are mostly from In­done­sia and Bangladesh.

At the end of the day, the safety at the work sites has much to do with how com­pa­nies which are re­port­edly mak­ing huge gains from the con­struc­tion in­dus­try treat th­ese man­ual work­ers.

Their liv­ing con­di­tion, for in­stance, is one area that shouldn’t be taken lightly and sel­dom do we hear or read about lux­ury prop­erty de­vel­op­ers spar­ing a thought for them when they pride them­selves telling the me­dia about the bil­lions’ worth of the gross de­vel­op­ment value of their projects.

Ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the De­part­ment of Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health (DOSH), Datuk Ir Mo­htar Musri, there are 16,000 con­struc­tion sites in the coun­try right now, the ma­jor­ity in the Klang Val­ley.

The Klang Val­ley is in­deed the in­dus­try’s gold mine and it’s all too ob­vi­ous from the sheer sight of the cranes dot­ting the skies.

The con­struc­tion in­dus­try em­ploys some 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple mostly for­eign work­ers out of the es­ti­mated 14 mil­lion work­force in the coun­try.

Mo­htar told me that DOSH en­forces strin­gent safety laws on con­struc­tion sites given the fre­quent mishaps.

But to my mind, it would be next to im­pos­si­ble for DOSH of­fi­cials to visit most or all of such sites.

If de­vel­op­ers and their con­trac­tors leave even a lit­tle space for neg­li­gence, the rather scary sta­tis­tics of work­ers los­ing their lives would con­tinue un­abated.

I’m re­fer­ring to some 140 work­ers killed at con­struc­tion sites in the coun­try last year, a sharp in­crease from 80 in the pre­vi­ous year.

Ac­cord­ing to Mo­htar, two sets of laws on oc­cu­pa­tional safety and health are ap­pli­ca­ble with max­i­mum fines rang­ing from RM50,000 to RM100,000 im­posed on of­fend­ers with a two-year jail term to boot.

Per­haps it’s time to re­visit th­ese laws with a view to en­hanc­ing the penal­ties be­cause the amounts can be de­scribed as peanuts to the hun­dreds of mil­lion such projects nor­mally ac­crue.

Al­though jail terms are pro­vided, so far none has been im­posed on such of­fend­ers.

In terms of con­struc­tion sites and the ever men­ac­ing sky cranes, we cer­tainly have the most in the world right now by my reck­on­ing.

With the safety record at such sites still leav­ing much to be de­sired, much more soul-search­ing needs to be seen to be done by all par­ties con­cerned to save lives and limbs.

In all cases, one life lost is one too many.

Com­ments: let­ters@the­sundaily.com

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